ARLINGTON, TX - It's another message sent to the rest of the NFL by the Dallas Cowboys. Hot off of a beatdown of their division rival Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, they strolled onto the field at AT&T Stadium and hammered the best defense in the league in the Carolina Panthers -- to the tune of a 36-28 finish that wasn't as close as the final score would imply. Prescott continues cooking in his return to the NFL after his season-ending injury in 2020, but he wanted more from an already prolific offense, and he's getting it.
Going up against the highest-rated defense in the league in the visiting Panthers, it was the Cowboys defense who walked away with bragging rights on the afternoon. For while Prescott wasn't sacked a single time and threw no interceptions, Sam Darnold was hurried 11 times and sack five on the day, and the Flex Seal around his coffin door was provided by cornerback Trevon Diggs, who reeled in two interceptions on the day -- setting a franchise record in the process for most INTs ever by a Cowboys player through the first four games of a season.
The Panthers had their chances and a one-point lead at halftime, but the added possessions for Prescott turned into an assault on the tiring Carolina defense, all while the Dallas defense began thriving in the second half.
The Cowboys blasted off to a 20-point third quarter and that was essentially when the game ended, even if the clock disagreed for 12 more football minutes. And so it goes that the Panthers suffer their first defeat of the season, and it's the Cowboys who disappoint their critics en route to a 3-1 start.
Why the Cowboys won
It felt like the Cowboys were only a handful of mistakes from having a strong lead in the first half, but instead had a one-point deficit going into the half. They did a lot of good things in the first two quarters, though, especially from Ezekiel Elliott and Randy Gregory, with Elliott running freely over the Panthers vaunted defense while Gregory racked up his first two sacks of the 2021 season. Those two sacks would add to a total of five on the day for the Cowboys defense, and toss in two interceptions by Trevon Diggs and Prescott and Co. had plenty of extra possessions to play with.
And played with them they did, once again tap dancing around the 40-point mark with an explosive third quarter that saw them never look back. Anyone who needed to step up for the Cowboys did, and at the most important times, too.
Why the Panthers lost
It was the tale of two halves for the Panthers, who basically landed an 'A' for the first two quarters and an 'F' for the final two sessions. The best defense in the league held one of the best offenses in the league in the Cowboys to only 13 points at halftime, and Sam Darnold rewarded them by scoring two rushing touchdowns to give the Panthers a one-point lead on the road. But, in the second half, Darnold and the defense both collapsed under pressure, with the former being sacked five times in the game and throwing two backbreaking interceptions -- both to Trevon Diggs -- which led to touchdowns by the Cowboys offense.
It was a game the Panthers could've won, but when the Cowboys adjusted, Carolina didn't (or at least not until it was too late). It was a game schemed for perfectly initially, but too many body blows and a couple of haymakers send the Panthers into Week 5 with a very noticeable black eye -- or two.
As mentioned, Diggs didn't simply intercept Darnold once, he did it twice, and they led to a total of 10 points for the Cowboys offense on subsequent drives and, in the process, burying the Panthers.
Play of the Game
One word: Wow.
OK, two more words: That's Amari.
"[My son] said he wanted another interception. I gave him one. Well, actually, I gave him two." - Trevon Diggs
The Cowboys will look to finish with an undefeated three-game home stand when they host the New York Giants in Week 4, while the Panthers look to rebound against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles.
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